You gotta FIGHT…for your right!
Professional wrestling games – particularly those THQ/AKI games from the N64 – have a special place in the heart of Nintendo gamers of a certain age. Many people including those who weren’t necessarily wrestling fans have fond memories of WCW/nWo Revenge, WWF WrestleMania 2000, and WWF No Mercy. These games nearly perfected the controls and were so fun to play that we’re still comparing any new wrestling game to them over two decades later . Sadly, there hasn’t been a wrestling game in recent memory that’s managed to capture that magic, though many have tried. Enter AEW Fight Forever, the latest game that aims to recapture the past. In fact, AEW went so far as to partner with THQ Nordic and Yuke’s, who developed multiple games for NJPW and WWE in the past. And they didn’t stop there, appointing former WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF No Mercy director Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita to the same position on AEW Fight Forever. It’s clear where the inspiration came from, so that begs the question…did they succeed in reaching those lofty goals?
Short answer, yes – for the most part. As someone who played the heck out of all the N64 AKI games (including the Japanese-only Virtual Pro Wrestling 2), I’m pretty well-versed on the lineage that Yuke’s was attempting to channel.
The controls in AEW Fight Forever are similar to the N64 wrestling games with both weak and strong versions of strikes and grapples. There’s a separate counter system for strikes and grapples as well. It’s simple enough to learn and has enough depth to pull off a varied selection of moves, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated at times when I’d hit the wrong button due to the HOURS of muscle memory playing the N64 games. That’s a me problem, though, and it lessened considerably as I played more matches.
The meter system from those AKI games makes a return in AEW Fight Forever’s Momentum meter complete with the same color scheme ranging from the blue “Danger” level through green, yellow, orange, and red finishing with the “Signature” and “Finisher” levels. Each wrestler will have at least one (and possibly more) Signature and Finisher move.
As you successfully perform moves or taunts, your Momentum meter will increase, eventually leading to the Signature state. At this point, you can perform a Signature move using the control pad. Alternatively, you can taunt in the Signature state to fire your wrestler up to the Finisher state. Now, you can either hit one of your wrestler’s signature moves or use the right control stick to perform a devastating finishing move to potentially end the match. As long as you know how your wrestler performs these moves – such as out of a grapple, off the top rope, etc. – it’s extremely easy and satisfying to pull them off and gain control of a match. And if you’re not sure how to hit those moves for your wrestler, all that information is available in the pause menu making it easy to quickly get up to speed with any AEW superstar on Fight Forever’s roster.
Speaking of that roster, here’s where the game hits a few bumps in the road. At launch, there are 49 playable wrestlers – a mix of men, women, established stars, and new favorites. In addition, there will be more grapplers added down the line…for a price. Yes, Fight Forever features DLC so you may not be able to play as your favorite wrestler without coughing up some extra cash. This is typical of the industry landscape, but it’s still disappointing that some wrestlers are gated behind a paywall.
In terms of match types, all the usual suspects are here with singles, tags, and multi-man matches along with ladder matches and the unique exploding barbwire match. After a match, you receive a score based on your performance and AEW cash which can be spent in the in-game shop to unlock poses, taunts, moves, items, etc. These can then be used in the comprehensive Custom mode to create your own AEW superstar or Arena.
Fight Forever features a plethora of different game modes to boot including mini-games and Road To Elite – this game’s version of a story mode. You can choose an existing wrestler or your own custom creation and try to work your way from the bottom of the roster into a world champion over the course of a year.
Not only do you compete inside the ring on televised shows, but you can also live the life of a wrestler outside the ring and lift weights, check out the host city in the storyline, or go out for dinner. Each of these events have an effect on your wrestler’s current stats such as motivation, energy, and health. Strategically using these events ensures that your wrestler performs at their peak during the match to receive the maximum amount of skill points which can be used to increase their attributes. It’s a neat diversion, but the out-of-ring events amount to choosing menu options. I did get my picture taken with Pac in front of the Lincoln Memorial, so that’s cool, I guess.
Ummm, at least Lincoln looks decent in that photo? As you can see, Fight Forever is not a graphical showcase on the Switch. There are plenty of blurry textures and flat-out ugly models. I get it, the Switch is over six years old at this point, but there are a lot of games that look great on the system. Just not this one.
At least Fight Forever plays well. I’m not one who focuses on frame rate, but I didn’t notice anything egregious when playing even in the more demanding matches with more participants or added effects like the exploding barbwire match. I did have one instance of the game freezing where I had to restart. Outside of that, it seemed to perform adequately without any noticeable stuttering which is a win in my book.
If you’re reading this review, you’re likely already a fan of professional wrestling or grew up with the AKI N64 games and in that case AEW Fight Forever should tickle your fancy. Yuke’s set out to create a spiritual successor to the wrestling games of yore, and in that respect they succeeded. Fight Forever doesn’t feel exactly like its forebears, but it’s a worthy facsimile with enough new bells and whistles added to create a distinct, yet familiar experience all with the trademark feel of AEW. There is plenty of content to experience with even more to be had in future DLC and the game is just plain fun to play. The controls are easy enough to pick up quickly yet contain sufficient depth, giving you the freedom to perform the arsenal of moves professional wrestling is known for. Let’s be honest, what wrestling fan wouldn’t want to play as Sting in 2023? Woo!